Hospices in England and Wales are to offer funeral services direct to families for the first time as part of their end of life care support.

St. Margaret’s Hospice in Somerset has joined forces with funeral service provider Low Cost Funeral Ltd (part of the Memoria Group) to establish Hospice Funerals LLP in one of the biggest developments in the funeral market.

The company will provide quality, caring, transparent and personal funerals at affordable prices for everyone. There will be a range of funeral services through hospices across the country, from unattended direct cremation to a personalised funeral.   It will also offer pre-arranged guaranteed fixed cost funeral plans. Prices for funerals start at £1,295 which is some 66% (£2,500) lower in cost than an average traditional funeral. The service will be available to everyone in the community, irrespective of whether they have been a hospice patient or not.

The business is being run as a franchise and hospices will offer the services through funeral shops on the High Street. The first funeral home will be opened by St. Margaret’s in Taunton in January 2018.

Entering the funeral market was the brainchild of Ann Lee, Chief Executive of St. Margaret’s Hospice who was introduced to Howard Hodgson CEO of Low Cost Funeral Ltd (part of the Memoria Group). Hodgson came up with the idea of a joint venture and since then the two parties have been working together to develop this new business model. 

Memoria communicated with various government departments following the Parliamentary Select Committee Report into the cost of funerals in 2016 and why the cost of dying had increased for several years at a higher rate than the cost of living. At that time the company pledged to be at the vanguard of a drive towards ensuring that the cost of funerals were more transparent and the introduction of more affordable fixed price packages.

Ann Lee, said: “We wanted to provide people, who need end of life care either in their hospice or at home, a modern, transparent, personal and affordable funeral service.

“This is a natural extension of the care we provide our patients, so their final time, be it months, weeks or years, is free from worry about the practicalities of a funeral. It also offers patients and their families more choice, whether under our care or not.

“The initiative emerged from a major public consultation carried out by St. Margaret’s looking at innovative new models of support to ensure sustainability of its services in the face of a growing elderly population and a reduction in government funding – a challenge faced by the hospice movement and other care organisations across the country. We also sought the views of the general public to our plans and there was a resounding positive response.”

The profits generated from funeral services operated by the hospices will be re-invested into their local communities to enhance the care and support they provide to people with life limiting illnesses and widen provision in areas such as bereavement services.

Howard Hodgson, Low Cost Funeral Director and Joint Managing Partner of Hospice Funerals, who has amassed 50 years in the funeral industry and built the UK’s largest publicly quoted funeral company in the 80s and 90s, added: “Dying and death is but one unavoidable experience for the bereaved. Our service is designed to reduce funeral poverty and to cater for all tastes, budgets, religions and preferences.”

The development of the venture has been welcomed by Professor Max Watson, Consultant in Palliative Medicine at the University of Ulster.

He commented: “Celebrating a life in 2017 differs greatly from when the hospice movement began. We are a very different society. Hospices have been on a journey themselves; ensuring patients have more information and therefore more opportunity to choose the care that suits them at this very important part of their lives.

“With end of life care and bereavement care being delivered by hospices across the country daily, and many funeral services being taken by Hospice Chaplains, it seems only appropriate that hospices should consider offering uninterrupted care and support from holistic care through to bereavement. By doing so, families are saved from the anxiety of an additional transition to another service provider.

“Of course, many families will have close relationships already with their own undertakers, but for those who do not, hospice based funeral service support is offering an opportunity for families to continue to receive uninterrupted care and support including the funeral from a team and an organisation that they have come to know and trust.”

As part of the franchise scheme the hospice provider will be entitled to operate exclusively within a defined area and can acquire more than one area.

Hospice Funerals will provide a list of suppliers, products and prices that the Hospice providers will need to purchase to create their funeral service, meaning Hospice Funerals makes no margin on the set up. 

Hospice Funerals will select, train and manage the Hospice providers’ funeral staff, and provide a bespoke funeral arrangement software system. Besides funeral income, the Hospice provider will receive pre-arrangement plan commission and all income related to memorialisation, boosting funds needed for core and added value services.

Anne Opie, Volunteer at St. Margaret’s Hospice

Anne Opie, aged 68, from Taunton, has been a volunteer in St Margaret’s in patient unit in Taunton for the past four years. In recent years she has lost her mother, father and brother to cancer.  Her brother was looked after by a hospice in Essex, which inspired Anne to volunteer at St Margaret’s after his death.  She also sits on the Volunteer Forum and has trained as a spiritual care practitioner.

She is wholly supportive of a hospice funeral service, calling it a win-win for patients and their families and the hospice movement.

She says: “When people have experienced the wonderful care offered by a hospice, I think they would want that same level of care and attention to be given to their funeral.  It just seems like a natural extension of what the hospice already does: they look after people in the last stages of their lives, then there are the bereavement services and memorial opportunities after they have died. This feels like it fills the only gap.

“Unless you have pre-paid your funeral, I don’t think everyone realises how expensive it is, so if the hospice can offer a good value service, where any profit goes back to providing care, I think that will be very attractive.”

Laurence Oldham, Vice President of St. Margaret’s Hospice

“Many congratulations to the Chairman and Chief Executive on this project. I can't think of anything better than to link our activities to the funeral business as described.

It can provide such a smooth transition and something that has been required in the industry

for many a long year. Well done to all such pioneers.”

Stephen Roberts, CEO, North Devon Hospice, Barnstaple

"Putting it quite simply, a hospice providing funeral services is a natural extension to the wrap around care that hospice's provide throughout the country to the whole family at end of life. We hold a patient and their family throughout their journey to death and then sustain that support for those loved ones left behind. From a continuity of care it makes complete sense for a hospice to be also integral in a key moment in death in the form of the funeral.

With the skills and experience that hospices have they are well positioned to discuss funeral provision as a natural extension on other discussions about the patient's wishes. In addition to this, there is a recognised and real squeeze on hospice income. With NHS funding pressures remaining and the UK economy set for some very uncertain times ahead, it is prudent management to identify other forms of sustainable income. In so doing we are diversifying the income streams for hospices in such a way that reliance on community support, corporate support or indeed legacies is better risk managed.

North Devon Hospice’s key focus is income diversification right now and in particular the franchise offer that St. Margaret's has created."

 

Fiona Singleton, Down to Earth Charity

Fiona Singleton manages the project Down to Earth on behalf of Quaker Social Action. It offers practical advice and support for people on low incomes faced with organising a funeral.

“Offering a dignified and low cost funeral through a hospice provider offers more choice in the marketplace.   Even if you know someone is going to die it is a huge shock when it happens.  Then being faced with the stress of organising and paying for a funeral, often incurring debt to do so, in our experience delays the grieving process.

“We see this as an extension of the care that is offered by the hospice community and very much welcome the move.”

 

Professor Max Watson, Consultant in Palliative Medicine at the University of Ulster.

“Celebrating a life in 2017 differs greatly from when the hospice movement began. We are a very different society. Hospices have been on a journey themselves; ensuring patients have more information and therefore more opportunity to choose the care that suits them at this very important part of their lives.

“With end of life care and bereavement care being delivered by hospices across the country daily, and many funeral services being taken by Hospice Chaplains, it seems only appropriate that hospices should consider offering uninterrupted care and support from holistic care through to bereavement. By doing so, families are saved from the anxiety of an additional transition to another service provider. Of course, many families will have close relationships already with their own undertakers, but for those who do not, hospice based funeral service support is offering an opportunity for families to continue to receive uninterrupted care and support including the funeral from a team and an organisation that they have come to know and trust.”

 

Dr Ros Taylor MBE, Palliative Physician and Clinical Associate Hospice UK

“In my capacity as a hospice doctor I’ve looked after thousands of families facing a tragic loss.  Continuity and relationship are critical at this traumatic time, and a sense of loss can be worsened when the body is moved into the care of someone else. Hospice Funerals will fulfil a significant need for continuity of care at a time when families are experiencing a whirlpool of emotions. The Hospice team know the family so well, and can be of immense help with exploring funeral choices and planning how a loved one’s life could be best celebrated. Expert hospice bereavement teams can become involved straight away, rather than waiting several weeks to make contact. This innovation truly builds on the holistic care to which hospices aspire.”